Update on the latest in business:

FINANCIAL MARKETS

Stocks rise on Wall Street ahead of Christmas holiday

UNDATED (AP) — Stocks rose in afternoon trading on Wall Street today and added to the week’s gains ahead of the Christmas holiday.

The S&P rose 0.8% as of 1:11 p.m. Eastern. The Dow rose 222 points, or 0.6%, to 35,715 and the Nasdaq rose 0.8%.

The Russell 2000, a measure of small-company stocks, rose 0.7%. Indexes were mostly higher in Europe and Asia.

Every major U.S. index is still on track for weekly gains after a choppy several days where stocks bounced between sharp losses and solid gains. It is a shortened week for traders, with U.S. markets closed Friday in observance of Christmas.

VIRUS OUTBREAK-TREATMENTS

Pfizer pill becomes 1st US-authorized home COVID treatment

WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. has authorized the first pill against COVID-19, a Pfizer drug that Americans can take at home to reduce the risk of hospitalization and death. The Food and Drug Administration announcement comes as the U.S. braces for a wave of new infections from the omicron variant that is threatening already-strained hospitals.

Pfizer’s prescription pill is the first U.S. medication that doesn’t require an injection or an IV, a long-awaited milestone in the battle against the virus. But initial supplies will be extremely limited with just enough to treat tens of thousands of people. The drug was authorized for high-risk patients who are most likely to get severe illness.

For now, the recommendation is that, if you test positive for COVID-19, you should isolate at home, stay away from others and tell the people you’ve been in close contact with. And if you have trouble breathing or develop other serious symptoms, see a doctor immediately. That’s the advice of U.S. health officials. COVID-19 diagnoses have been soaring since the recent arrival of the omicron variant. That means Americans should prepare for the possibility that they or someone they plan to see will suddenly be diagnosed with an infection.

US ECONOMY-GDP

US economy grew at 2.3% rate in Q3, up from earlier estimate

WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. economy grew at a 2.3% rate in the third quarter according to a third and final estimate of the nation’s economic growth for that period. The Commerce Department said Wednesday that the nation’s total output of goods and services, was higher than last month’s estimate of 2.1% growth in the third quarter.

The new-found strength came from primarily from stronger consumer spending than previously thought and a stronger performance by businesses in rebuilding their inventories..

Now with the appearance of the omicron variant, coming on top of high inflation and lingering supply chain issues, there are concerns about future growth prospects.

Those fears have sent the stock market on a turbulent ride in recent days although new optimism that the omicron risks will be manageable allowed the Dow to stage a 560-point rebound on Tuesday.

CONSUMER CONFIDENCE

US consumer confidence rises despite omicron, higher prices

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. consumer confidence rose this month as Americans shrugged off concerns about rising prices and COVID’-19′s highly contagious omicron variant. The Conference Board, a business research group, said Wednesday that its consumer confidence index — which takes into account consumers’ assessment of current conditions and the their outlook for the future — rose to 115.8 in December, the highest reading since July.

In November, it registered 111.9. Consumers’ view of current conditions dipped slightly, but their outlook for the next six months brightened.

Their expectations for inflation actually dropped this month — even though the government reported that prices rose in November at the fastest year-over-year rate since 1982.

HOME SALES

Existing home sales, median price edged up in November

UNDATED (AP) — Sales of previously occupied U.S. homes rose for the third straight month in November, driven by strong demand, low mortgage rates and intense competition for a relatively low number of properties on the market.

The National Association of Realtors said Wednesday that existing homes sales rose 1.9% last month from October to a seasonally-adjusted annual rate of 6.46 million units. Sales fell 2% from November last year.

The median home price rose to $353,900, a 13.9% increase from November last year. At the end of last month, the inventory of unsold homes stood at just 1.11 million homes for sale, down 13% from a year ago. At the current sales pace, that amounts to a 2.1 months’ supply.

Homes also continue to sell within days of being put up for sale. Homes typically remained on the market 18 days before getting snapped up last month. In a market that’s more evenly balanced between buyers and sellers, homes typically remain on the market 45 days.

STUDENT LOANS

Pause on student loan payments is extended through May 1

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Biden administration is extending a student loan moratorium that has allowed millions of Americans to put off debt payments during the pandemic. Under the action Wednesday, payments on federal student loans will remain paused through May 1. Interest rates will remain at 0% during that period, and debt collection efforts will be suspended.

Those measures have been in place since early in the pandemic but were set to expire Jan. 31.

This is the second extension from the administration. President Joe Biden says the administration understands that borrowers are still coping with the impact of the pandemic.

GERMANY-RUSSIA-PIPELINE

Russian pipeline faces big hurdles amid Ukraine tensions

FRANKFURT, Germany (AP) — Russia’s natural gas pipeline to Europe is built and filling with gas. But the Nord Stream 2 pipeline still faces a rocky road ahead before the gas can flow to customers in Germany and Europe. First, the U.S. secretary of state has said gas won’t start if Russia launches military aggression against Ukraine.

German officials are more cautious but say Russian aggression would carry high costs and sanctions. Even if it doesn’t come to that, Nord Stream 2 faces an extensive regulatory review and possible lawsuits after that from pipeline opponents such as Poland who say it gives Russia too much leverage over Europe.

It’s all happening as Europe faces winter with a shortage of gas that has sent prices surging.

EU-BREXIT FISHERIES

EU, UK reach fishing deal on their shared stocks

UNDATED (AP) — After months of wrangling, the European Union and the United Kingdom announced Wednesday that they have struck a fishing deal on their shared stocks — though environmentalists said fish will continue to be overexploited under the new post-Brexit rules.

The agreement is separate from from the spat between France and Britain over licenses for French fishermen to operate off the U.K.’s crown dependencies of Jersey and Guernsey, which hug the French coast.

Wednesday’s decision reverts back to last year’s trade deal between France and the U.K. and sets catch quotas and rights for about 100 shared fish stocks in each other’s waters.

While the agreement avoids a political fight over the economically minor but symbolically loaded fishing sector, environmental groups insisted it came at the cost of fish.

Vera Coelho of the group Oceana said “certain fish populations, like West of Scotland herring, Irish Sea whiting or Celtic Sea cod, will continue to be overexploited in 2022. ClientEarth expert Jenni Grossmann says that stocks like cod in the Celtic Sea and West of Scotland would continue to linger on the brink of commercial extinction.

OLYMPICS-JAPAN-COSTS

Organizers say Tokyo Olympics cost $1.8B less than expected

UNDATED (AP) — Tokyo Olympic organizers say the cost of the Games is estimated to be $1.8 billion less than anticipated. The Tokyo Olympics ended 4 1/2 months ago.

The biggest blow to the budget was the loss of $800 million in ticket sales, a shortfall that has to be made up by Japanese government entities. But, officials say the reduction in costs is because there were no fans and therefore vastly reduced labor costs.

Olympic costs are notoriously difficult to track and there is always debate about what are and what are not Olympic costs. A study a year ago by the University of Oxford concluded that Tokyo was the most expensive Olympics on record.

Organizers indicated final expense figures would not be available until after spring 2022 with venues still being being restored and contracts still subject to revision.

NLRB-NISSAN-UNION VOTE

NLRB to review order blocking Nissan plant small union vote

NASHVILLE (AP) — A federal labor board is reviewing a decision by one of its regional officials to deny a union from trying to organize fewer than 100 employees at the Nissan assembly plant in Tennessee.

A 3-2 decision Tuesday by the National Labor Relations Board ordered a review of the June ruling that prevented a vote of 87 tool and die technicians at Nissan’s Smyrna plant.

The board now has a Democratic majority under President Joe Biden.

The regional official had ruled that the only appropriate unionized group through the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers campaign would represent about 4,300 plantwide production and maintenance workers.

The union didn’t pursue the larger vote.

YUENLING-BUD LIGHT-TRADEMARK FLAP

Yuengling accuses Bud Light of trampling on trademark

UNDATED (AP) — A trademark tiff between America’s oldest beer maker and America’s best-selling beer brand appears to be over before it really began. Last week, D.G. Yuengling & Son demanded its much larger rival, Anheuser-Busch, stop using a tagline for its forthcoming Bud Light Next zero-carb beer. Bud Light had been calling it the “next generation of beer.”

Yuengling says that’s too close to the trademarked slogan it uses for its Flight low-carb brew.

Yuengling poked fun at Anheuser-Busch on social media and sent the beer giant a cease-and-desist letter. Anheuser-Busch has since scrubbed its social media accounts of the disputed posts.

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